Thursday, 8 October 2009

No Pleasing Some People

That’s dunroamin for another month and, having had to forego Barnet, the appetite for a home game is building. I don’t think anyone’s in any doubt that two in a row offer the opportunity to if not catch Leeds then put some distance between us and the chasing pack. That’s not to suggest that either Oldham or Huddersfield will be easy, especially with injury concerns; rather that after the shock of Colchester and the stabilisation of the point at Leeds we should find out whether we are truly on track or whether we should be looking more seriously at one win in five league games.

Given that we could easily have won two more of those five (Southampton – if the linesman hadn’t ruled out a perfectly good goal – and Norwich) we can I think for the moment just view Colchester as one of those days. We’ll have a better idea in 10 days’ time (and note to team, my partner Suzanne will be at the Huddersfield game, so a comprehensive victory would go some way to ensuring joy and mirth through the weekend).

Any time Oldham is mentioned there’s the opportunity to reminisce about the great Peter Hunt goal that never was, many moons ago. For anyone who hasn’t been repeatedly bored by us old farts, we were in danger of not winning a match that we had thought done and dusted as Oldham pulled back to 3-2 when Hunt shot into the side netting. All the players moved back for the goal kick, only to notice the referee running back to the centre circle. He truly was the only person in the ground who thought the ball went in. Never mind, it was his opinion that counted – and who are we (never mind the players) to question the capabilities of the officials. I’ve never sounded Scottish or been called Fergie.

There was one disappointment on return to the UK, namely that there’s still no indication from the club about the nature of the £7m fresh investment by the directors. Maybe the information is stuck at post offices throughout the country, maybe I've missed something, but the opportunity to pass on the information in the Exeter programme was passed up. Whereas we’ve been given chapter and verse about why the Championship goals DVD has not yet appeared (and the letter sent out about this was welcome and appropriate, giving people the opportunity to request repayment if they don’t want to wait any longer), we have heard nothing about what form the new investment is to take. I guess it’s possible that the formalities haven’t yet been concluded and we will find out in due course. And yes, it does sound churlish to harp on about the injection of cash which has enabled us to keep the players we wanted to. I just still find it strange that there has been nothing said. Is the money in the form of newly issued shares, or debt, or some other instrument? Does the fresh investment involve priority claims? The previous announcement about the prospective deal to sell and lease back the training ground (and to sell some other assets) to directors was followed by an appropriate circular, but this time there’s been nothing. Is there an EGM planned to approve the investment?

The directors may feel that none of us are interested in such matters. If so, they are wrong. Supporters of football clubs, especially those outside the top two divisions (where the income they provide are of far greater relative importance), are de facto stakeholders in the club, even though of course any decisions taken by the board would be voted through. Perhaps (and I truly hope not) they feel that being asked to clarify the mechanism by which they are putting money into the club smacks of ingratitude. That would be an error. The board has the backing, respect and admiration of the vast majority of supporters (provided of course there is no intention of selling out to someone like Sullivan and any of his cohorts); equally, the extended period of silence about the prospective takeover, whether or not for good reason, caused some disquiet and extra effort to communicate now would not go amiss – and communication doesn’t mean saying a lot about matters you are happy to disclose.

Otherwise the danger is encouraging a rather jaundiced view of other statements. For example, the club has announced the appointment to the board of Stuart Butler-Gallie as an “independent, non-executive” director. It seems he is a Charlton supporter and if having him on the board is deemed worthwhile that’s of course fine and nobody’s business but the board (assuming this does not involve increased expenditure). But to present someone who provides services to the club, presumably for appropriate remuneration, as “independent” sounds a bit silly. I’m not an expert on the formal requirements in the UK for non-exec directors, but even the Wikipedia definition states that the person should not be an employee of the company (fine) or be affiliated with it in any other way (and for what it’s worth, a quick Google search confirmed that at least in Hong Kong one of the requirements of an independent, non-exec director is that he/she “does not have any interests other than the remuneration paid by the company” for director services). Presumably Mr Butler-Gallie (or his company) will continue to be paid for his services as company secretary and legal advisor; perhaps it will save the club money to cut these payments and include a director’s pay. But to suggest that he is an independent director at least sounds misleading.

The club decided to terminate the role of a supporters’ director and I for one didn’t criticise the move (nor the role of the Fans Forum). There are conflicts of interest which can arise. However, the end of the role would at least appear to have been followed by instances where communication between the board and the supporters seems to have fallen short of previous standards. It may be coincidence, but again a little extra effort would seem to me at least to be appropriate, not least to put a stop to thoughts that the board has developed a little siege mentality.

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